Rural Alberta is a place where very few visitors go; Albertans included.
The majority of Albertans don’t venture far outside of the Calgary, Edmonton, Banff triangle with an occasional foray into Jasper. Very few, including people who have called urban Alberta home their whole life, have ever seen the unique rural Alberta culture.
I grew up in Red Deer, a large town of 80,000. I wouldn’t call it a true Alberta rural town, but it is a hub for many rural centres around central Alberta. However, my mom grew up on a farm, and my dad in a small mining town; therefore I was regularly exposed to rural Alberta.
I was speaking with a friend recently who is attending the University of Calgary. She had never visited anywhere in Alberta other than Calgary and Banff.
I had to change this.
Therefore last weekend we decided to take a little road trip south of Calgary along my favourite drive in the world, the Cowboy Trail (Highway 22 South.)
The towns and landscape south of Calgary are true ranch country. When you picture a ‘western landscape’ you are probably picturing south-western Alberta.
I’m not just saying this for effect. South-western Alberta has been the backdrop to Hollywood’s largest westerns, including Tombstone, Unforgiven, and Brokeback Mountain.
We had a fantastic day for me to play tour guide for this gorgeous piece of my home province. The sun was shining, fresh snow adorned the mighty Rocky Mountains, and only a skiff of winter snow was left on the dry ranchland prairies leading up to the mighty rock giants.
Longview is a place I have driven through many, many times. My grandma lived south of here about 145kms, and so Longview was a frequent stop, but only for gasoline.
However, I had for a long time held a sense of wonder at the old western town. The most interesting building to me was the western-style saloon and hotel which is the prominent building on the main drag.
I had never before entered the saloon, but had thought it would be an interesting place to see true rural Alberta culture alive and well.
I was right.
Our Sunday afternoon visit was even better than I could have expected. The Twin Cities Hotel and Saloon is what a great modern-day saloon should be: unpretentious, friendly, and lively.
Apparently Sundays are Jam Day in the saloon, and this drew a motley crew of talented musicians. The people who came to play their instruments were very talented, and mostly sang folk and country.
During one of the breaks in the action, the drummer came over to welcome us to town. How did he know we weren’t from around town? One, because we were dressed differently than the locals. And two, because it’s the only saloon in Longview, a town of a couple hundred residents.
I told him that I write a travel blog, and asked if it would be cool if I took some photos for this article. He excitedly agreed, and introduced me to all of the members of the band.
We finished off our food and drinks, I took some photos, thanked them, and we left. There’s live music on Saturday nights, and the rooms are only $50/night, which would make for a fun Saturday night excursion.
Although Longview is only 50kms south of Calgary, it is culturally unique. Longview gives you a true vision into some of what makes rural Alberta so great. The setting of this small western town, with the Rockies framing its quaint western charm, is made for Hollywood.
Hollywood has already found Longview. Will you?